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Turkey: Making Mosques a Place for Women

The women's section overlooks the main floor of the Ağa Mosque in central Istanbul. (Photo: Constanze Letsch)

A campaign to make Istanbul’s roughly 3,100 mosques more welcoming for women could set off a gender revolution in Turkey’s places of Islamic worship – and one that may not be uniformly welcomed.

"This is about mosques being a space for women," declared Kadriye Avci Erdemli, Istanbul’s deputy mufti, the city's second most powerful administrator of the Islamic faith. "When a woman enters a mosque, she is entering the house of God and she should experience the same sacred treatment. In front of God, men and women are equal; they have the same rights to practice their religion."

As part of the "Beautification of Mosques for Women” project, Erdemli sent 30 teams to visit all of Istanbul's mosques and report back on the facilities for women. What the teams found was shocking, she claimed. "Many of the mosques have no toilets for women, no place for women to wash before praying,” Erdemli recounted. “Most of the places allocated for women were used as storage places, and those that weren't were usually filthy and freezing cold in winter."

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Dorian Jones is a freelance reporter based in Istanbul.

Turkey: Making Mosques a Place for Women

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